How Bands Got Their Names

Coming up with cool band names has been a teenage pastime for ages, but eventually, if you put a real band together, you have to nail one down. Here are the stories of how some well-known bands decided on a name for their group.

The Beatles

When John, Paul, and George first came together as a band in 1958, they called themselves The Quarry Boys. In 1960, Stuart Sutcliffe came on as bassist, and in that year, the group went through five name changes before landing on The Beatles.

All four were particularly fond of the music of Buddy Holly; Sutcliffe in particular liked his back-up group, called The Crickets, and suggested they rename their own group The Beetles. John and Stuart eventually settled on The Beatals because it contained the word Beat, which is how they described their music. That name, however, didn't last long.

During 1960, the group appeared onstage as both The Silver Beats and The Silver Beetles, until John was once introduced onstage as "Long John Silver." He didn't take kindly to that, and quickly shortened the name of the band to The Beatles, which they've been known as ever since.

Pink Floyd

Roger Waters, Nick Mason, and Richard Wright were originally part of a group that went by many names, including The Screaming Abdabs, Leonard's Lodgers, the Megadeaths, and The Tea Seat (or the T-Set). It was while they were called The Tea Set that they found themselves booked on a gig with a band that had the same name. After some quick thinking, they came up with the band name The Pink Floyd Sound, after Piedmont blues musicians Pink Anderson and Floyd Council. The Sound was soon dropped, but the definite article The stayed around until the early 70s.

Literary band names

Some bands took their names from literary works of varying quality:

  • Coldplay took their name from the book Child's Reflections, Cold Play, a collection of poetry by Philip Horky.
  • The Doors derived their name from Aldous Huxley's The Doors of Perception, which in turn was taken from these lines from 18th-century poet William Blake: "If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite."
  • The late-60s band Steppenwolf took their name from the title of Herman Hesse's autobiographical novel of the same name.
  • The Velvet Underground took the name of a book by Michael Leigh and Tony Conrad about the sexual underground of the early 1960s.

Not where you think

The source of these band names might not be as obvious as you think:

  • Aerosmith: You might assume that this is just a re-spelling of the title of Sinclair Lewis's novel The Arrowsmith, and when Joey Kramer originally suggested the name, that's what the other band members thought, too. But Kramer came up with the name after listening to Harry Nilsson's Aerial Ballet and then trying to come up with cool band names that had aero in them.
  • Judas Priest: Not a name derived from the Bible, but instead taken from the Bob Dylan song The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest.